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Old June 16, 2016   #1
Shapshftr
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Default My Horizontal Tomato Trellises

Like most others here I used to use round cages. Initially I used the store bought ones that are way too short and small in diameter. Then I moved up to making my own with rolls of 5 ft wide concrete reinforcing mesh. Even these were too small in diameter, and needed to be staked to keep them upright in the wind. Sometimes staking didn't even keep them upright when the plants were big and top heavy. I had many plants get damaged or destroyed in them when we get 40 to 50 mph winds.

Then one day I decided I needed a better way because the plants were too confined to get good air circulation to prevent fungal infections. It was also a pain pulling the tomatoes through them. I grow big maters. So it dawned on me that tomatoes are vining plants and are designed to sprawl out horizontally, not vertically. I had never seen any type of horizontal trellises for maters, so I searched online for hours. I finally came across a post by a guy who had the same idea. So I copied his plans for the most part. He had raised wooden beds so he nailed or screwed 2x2s to them for upright posts.

Instead I pounded metal fence posts in the ground and attached the 2x2s to them with tie wire. Rather than the 5 ft wide rolled concrete mesh, I bought the 4x8 ft sheets of it. I then made a 4x8 frame out of 2x2s with a center cross member for added rigidity. Then the mesh was attached to the frames with fence staples. The panels are supported from the posts by ropes that simply go through holes drilled through the posts, and are tied around a small piece of dowel rod on the outsides. Then you lift and set the panels in between the posts that are spaced 6 ft apart lengthwise, and a little more than 4 ft apart width wise. This is because the 2x2's that run across the width of the panels are 4 ft, making the panels roughly 51 inches across. So the panels just hang in a sort of hammock style fashion with just the ropes supporting them.

The posts are 8 ft high, so I can hang 3 panels, up to about 7 feet. The reason for using ropes to hold them up was so you can raise the panels as the plants grow, by simply pulling the ropes through the outside farther and tying them up higher. I found that while in theory that sounded good, it really doesn't work well once the plants have grown up through them and are very bushy. So I just add up to 3 panels as needed as the plants grow. This takes a lot of garden space so isn't feasible for small gardens. However you could plant 2 plants to a panel section, instead of one in the center like I do. I have them all set up end to end in a long row.

To me this is the ideal way to trellis tomatoes. They get lots of air flow to prevent fungal infections. And you can easily reach in between the panels to pick the fruit, spray with any types of sprays you may need, search for bugs, etc. No more plants falling over, no more vines going sideways through the cages and bending down to the ground from the weight of the fruits. You can help train the branches up through the mesh as they grow, and they will lay on the panels as they bear fruit. Once they are grown through the squares of the panels they are totally protected from wind.
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Old June 16, 2016   #2
Salsacharley
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That's ingenious! I'd need acres and tons of $ to do 150 plants, but your plants look terrific.
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Old June 16, 2016   #3
Shapshftr
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Thanks Salsacharley. I grow em big, lol. Another reason for needing heavy duty support. Those pics were only half way through the growing season too. It's a bit of an investment too to buy all the wood, mesh, screws, staples, ropes and dowels. But it's all reusable so in the long run it pays off. Only thing is I didn't use pressure treated lumber. So I will be redoing them one by one as they go bad. Those pics are 5 years old, so I done good so far.
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Old June 16, 2016   #4
PhilaGardener
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Intriguing! I have seen supports like this for growing carnations and other flowers in greenhouses.

Over the course of the growing season, do the plants spread out to cover the entire surface of the panels on each level?
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Old June 16, 2016   #5
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Originally Posted by PhilaGardener View Post
Intriguing! I have seen supports like this for growing carnations and other flowers in greenhouses.

Over the course of the growing season, do the plants spread out to cover the entire surface of the panels on each level?
Not quite. Of course it depends on how big your plants get. I start indoors real early, use my own homemade seed starter mix, flood them with light and pot up to air pruning pots. So by mid May I usually have 2 ft tall or better, bushy plants. My plants normally get to 7 ft tall, so the spread is close to that, I'd say between 5 and 6 ft across. The panels are 4 ft wide and a few branches will slightly overhang the sides. And even at that, it's only the ends of a few branches that make it that far in either direction. That's why I said you could fit 2 plants under each panel, so they would all be spaced 4 ft apart. The ends of their branches may mingle a bit, but negligible.
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Old June 16, 2016   #6
rags57078
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I have seen this using cattle panels , great job . Thanks
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Old June 16, 2016   #7
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Thanks. Cattle panels are 16 ft so I would have to cut them in half. I thought about doing that in the future because they are sturdier and would last longer.
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Old June 17, 2016   #8
Starlight
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Thanks for sharing your idea. May give your idea a try, sure would beat trying to tie plants up everyday. For the fence staples, do they fit into a regular staple gun that does 1/2" staples or does it take a special type of tool?

Your plants and your peppers sure looking good there. : )
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Old June 17, 2016   #9
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Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
Thanks for sharing your idea. May give your idea a try, sure would beat trying to tie plants up everyday. For the fence staples, do they fit into a regular staple gun that does 1/2" staples or does it take a special type of tool?

Your plants and your peppers sure looking good there. : )
Sure does beat it. I used to have to tie up my plants as they grew and force them back inside the cages so they didn't grow through and hang back down to the ground. We were having a real bad fungal disease problem before this. And the plants got so thick inside the cages that there wasn't enough room for the tomatoes. They were getting smashed between the stems and the wires. It was a mess. The only time I do any tying now is if a bottom stem doesn't grow up through the lower panel, like the one you see in the picture. I didn't tie that one before hand and the weight of the tomatoes on it pulled it down to the ground. Sometimes a stem will start growing over the sides of the lower panels so I turn it back and tie it along the edge of the panel to keep it from going down to the ground. The higher ones never make it that far. I normally prune off any lower stems so water can't splash up on the leaves.

It has been a great system for me. It holds the plants upright like a bush, even though they are indeterminates. Those pics with the maters and peppers are from 5 years ago when I first made the trellises. Like I said, we get 50 mph winds here sometimes, and it destroys the peppers too. So rather than toss the tomato cages I had, I cut them in half to use around the peppers. They work better for them. Both plants get staked well at planting. The stakes hold them until the trellises and cages go in.

The fence staples are the kind you hammer in like these: http://tinyurl.com/h2tpusx

I think I'm going to do away with the ropes and dowels and just screw some L brackets onto the 2x2's to lay the panels on. Like I said, raising them up doesn't work since the leaves grow downward. It would break them all if they were raised up, and there is no need to. It will be quicker and easier to put them on.
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Old June 17, 2016   #10
Starlight
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Glad I asked about the staples. Haven't used something like that before. Know what to look for now. Thanks for the link.

I like your idea of using the L brackets. I was looking at the dowel part and wondered if I was coordinated to do that part. L brackets I can do for sure.

I am not the most coordinated person. Is there a trick to adding the panels without having the new one fall and break the plants underneath or do you put all the different heights on at the beginning?
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Old June 17, 2016   #11
Shapshftr
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Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
Glad I asked about the staples. Haven't used something like that before. Know what to look for now. Thanks for the link.

I like your idea of using the L brackets. I was looking at the dowel part and wondered if I was coordinated to do that part. L brackets I can do for sure.

I am not the most coordinated person. Is there a trick to adding the panels without having the new one fall and break the plants underneath or do you put all the different heights on at the beginning?
You're welcome. Just be careful of your fingers. I hit mine a lot with the hammer while holding the staples. If you're not coordinated you might want to use a pliers to hold the staples while you smack them with the hammer, LOL.

No trick really to adding them. I just have a helper to help guide them into place on one side, while holding them vertically, and resting them on the rope. Then they slowly lower it down horizontal while I gently help the leaves through the squares. You could just make it easy and set them all before the plants reach that height. And as for using the L brackets to rest them on, I think I would also tie them somehow to the posts to prevent them falling off in high winds. In order for the L bracket option to be feasible, you would have to get the posts set the exact right distance apart. With the ropes I don't have to worry. They can have a couple extra inches of space between them and the posts, and they just sway a little bit on the ropes.
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Old June 17, 2016   #12
Starlight
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: ) Ya I better. I usually wear men's heavy work gloves when I hammer regular nails. Saves on bruised fingers. LOL

Good point. We get a lot of high winds that take down the trees here when tornado season is on. Think when I go town this week I'll start getting supplies and maybe if I am lucky I can have a few built to try on the late summer/fall crop. I may holler later at you if I get stuck. : )
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Old June 18, 2016   #13
Shapshftr
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: ) Ya I better. I usually wear men's heavy work gloves when I hammer regular nails. Saves on bruised fingers. LOL

Good point. We get a lot of high winds that take down the trees here when tornado season is on. Think when I go town this week I'll start getting supplies and maybe if I am lucky I can have a few built to try on the late summer/fall crop. I may holler later at you if I get stuck. : )
I think I might go with shelf brackets next year since I'm going to switch to pressure treated 2x2 posts, something like these: http://www.lowes.com/pd/Blue-Hawk-1-...racket/4086664

The longer the bracket the more room for error in the post spacing. Then I would just wrap some tie wire around it and the sides of the panels to keep them in place. We get VERY HIGH WINDS here too during spring and tornado season. As long as I stake them good at planting when they are too small for the trellises, and then get the trellises up when they reach about 2 ft, I have no problems with wind anymore.

It can be hard to find straight 2x2's so I used 2x4's that I ripped in half with a table saw. Just remember to use 8 footers and cut them in half for all of the cross members so your panels will be a little over 4 ft wide. That gives you room to staple the mesh down since it's 4 ft wide. Good luck and protect your fingers!
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